Mark 8:27-35 “Who Do You Say That I Am?”

The Freeman - - LIFESTYLE -

To­day’s readings are packed with dy­na­mite! Some Scrip­ture schol­ars sug­gest that to­day’s Gospel from Mark con­tains the core of the whole Bi­ble. It con­tains the search­ing ques­tions of: 1) What think you of Je­sus Christ?, 2) What think you of your broth­ers and sis­ters?, and 3) What think you of suf­fer­ing, of pain?

To­gether with Isa­iah in the First Read­ing, and James in the Sec­ond, to­day’s Gospel of Mark con­fronts us with a pow­er­ful chal­lenge. First, what think you of Je­sus Christ?

It is a ques­tion posed by Je­sus to his dis­ci­ples to­ward the end of his pub­lic min­istry as they were mov­ing to­ward Cae­sarea Philippi, on their way to Jerusalem. In the first place, “What do peo­ple you meet on the street say I am?”

The apos­tles re­port a fair con­fu­sion. Some say that he was John the Bap­tist come back to life; oth­ers see him as Eli­jah, who was brought to heaven on a fiery char­iot, he has re­turned to the world af­ter nine cen­turies; and there are still oth­ers who think that Je­sus is one of the prophets come back to life.

All th­ese are in­for­ma­tion and hearsay, but now comes the di­rect ques­tion: “And you, who do you say that I am?”

Peter an­swers for all the Apos­tles. “You are the Mes­siah, you are the Christ, the anointed king of Is­rael of the House of David – ex­pected to come and de­liver Is­rael from its en­e­mies and to es­tab­lish a world em­pire, marked with jus­tice and peace.”

The an­swer was a gi­ant step for­ward, but that un­der­stand­ing still had to be clar­i­fied. The ques­tion has been cen­tral, has been cru­cial, to all Chris­tians since the time of Je­sus.” It’s the same ques­tion that each one of us will have to an­swer to Je­sus, “Who is Je­sus to you?”

Is he a his­tor­i­cal fig­ure of over 2000 years ago? Is he a teacher, like Con­fu­cius, a rabbi? Is he just a great per­son like Gandhi, Bud­dha, Jose Rizal, Ni­noy Aquino?

Is he a friend, a brother? Is he God? Is he your No. 1 in life? Or do you think of Je­sus at all? On our an­swer de­pends in large mea­sure the way we or­der our lives, the way we live.

In­deed, Ro­man Catholic faith and the­ol­ogy echo the cry of apos­tle Thomas faced with the risen Christ: “My Lord and my God!”

But the re­sponse Christ awaits is not a mere in­tel­lec­tual act. It in­volves Creed, Cult, and Code. Creed, Cult, and Code – what we be­lieve, how we wor­ship, the way we live – th­ese three facets of Catholi­cism have to be acts of love.

The Creed that we re­peat ev­ery Sun­day is im­por­tant to guide us in what we be­lieve. But, it is not enough for my Christianity to come alive.

I reach Christ only if my whole per­son reaches out to him. Faith saves only if it is an act of love. Only if my “I be­lieve” springs from “I love.”

Cult – the way we wor­ship – is not mainly a Sun­day obli­ga­tion un­der pain of se­ri­ous sin. The Eu­charist is the in­com­pa­ra­ble supreme act of Catholic wor­ship, and should be my love-filled re­sponse to the love that moved Christ to ut­ter at the Last Sup­per, “This is my body, which is given for you.”

The re­sponse is far from ad­e­quate if I ask, “Do I have to?” “Is this an obli­ga­tion?”

Code – the way we live – is not le­gal­ism, sheer con­form­ity to a set of rules of do’s and don’ts in­vented ar­bi­trar­ily by Church au­thor­i­ties. Law and moral­ity are hu­man ef­forts to de­fine, spec­ify, and con­cretize what the two great com­mand­ments de­mand: Love God, love your broth­ers and sis­ters. Like all hu­man laws, Church laws can be­come out­moded, need­ing re­vi­sion.

Who, then, do I say Christ is? He is the cen­ter of my world. Apart from him liturgy is just play-act­ing. Com­mu­nion is merely a cer­e­mony.

My whole life should echo the re­sponse of Peter to Je­sus at the Lakeshore break­fast, when Je­sus asked him, “Do you love me?” Hurt that Je­sus should ask him the ques­tion three times, Peter re­sponded with all his heart, “Lord, you know ev­ery­thing; you know that I love you.”

That brings us to the Sec­ond ques­tion – “What do you think of your sis­ters and broth­ers?” Here the pow­er­ful pas­sage from James is in­sep­a­ra­ble from gen­uine love for Christ. “What good is it if [you] say [you] have faith but have not works? Can [your] faith save [you]?

If a brother or sis­ter has noth­ing to wear and no food for the day, and you say to him or her, “Good­bye and good luck, keep warm and well-fed,” but do not meet their bod­ily needs, what good is that?

So it is with the faith that does noth­ing in prac­tice, it is thor­oughly life­less.”

Chal­leng­ing words. Th­ese chal­lenges are fur­ther spelled out by God through the mouth of the prophets. The prophet Micah pro­claimed: “What does the Lord re­quire of you? Do jus­tice and love stead­fastly…” And on the lips of Isa­iah: “Bring no more vain of­fer­ings… Seek jus­tice, cor­rect op­pres­sion, de­fend the fa­ther­less, plead for the widow.”

God’s trum­pet call in Amos: “I hate, I de­spise your feasts… Let jus­tice roll down like wa­ters.”

And Je­sus at the syn­a­gogue in Nazareth: “The Spirit of the Lord… has anointed me to preach good news to the poor… to set free the op­pressed.” Have th­ese words have any im­pact on our lives? Or, is our re­ac­tion like that of “What do I care.”

So­cial jus­tice is not a sec­u­lar off­shoot of Christianity. The jus­tice that God asks of us is not merely eth­i­cal af­fair. It does not mean just: Give to each one what is due to each, what each one has a strict right to de­mand, be­cause he or she is a hu­man be­ing has rights which can be proven by phi­los­o­phy or have been writ­ten into law.

As with Is­rael, so with us: Jus­tice is a whole web of re­la­tion­ships that stem from our covenant with God. We are to “set free the op­pressed” not be­cause they de­serve it but be­cause this is the way God has acted with us. Be­cause we have ex­pe­ri­enced God’s love, “This is my body given for you,” “This is the cup of my blood, the blood of the new and ev­er­last­ing covenant, shed for you.”

We have to live the sec­ond great com­mand­ment of the law and the Gospel, “You shall love your neigh­bor as you love your­self.”

Not only that; we are com­manded by Je­sus to love one an­other as he has loved us – even unto cru­ci­fix­ion. So that the words with which Je­sus will wel­come us at the end of our life will be: “I was hun­gry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink. I was a stranger and you wel­comed me… Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of th­ese my sis­ters and broth­ers, you did it to me.”

And who are th­ese least of our sis­ters and broth­ers to­day? Just to name a few, they are the chil­dren born into the garbage dump, the fam­i­lies that sleep on the side­walks at night, the refugees and the vic­tims of war in Min­danao, the vic­tims of ex­tra-ju­di­cial killings, and the fam­i­lies they left be­hind, the women and even mi­nors who are raped and mur­dered, the el­derly who are lonely and un­cared for, the un­born who can­not de­fend them­selves, the mil­lions who can­not find work to sup­port their fam­i­lies. What think you of th­ese your broth­ers and sis­ters?

Do the Word and Eu­charist we share trans­form us to be men and women for oth­ers? Does Liturgy move our life, from church to world, from Christ to the cru­ci­fied? From Christ to the cru­ci­fied. This brings us to the third point: What think you of suf­fer­ing?

Im­me­di­ately af­ter Peter con­fessed him as Mes­siah, Je­sus “be­gan to teach [the dis­ci­ples] that [he] must suf­fer much, be re­jected… be killed.”

And when Peter protested, Je­sus turned on him, re­buked him in un­usu­ally strong lan­guage: “Out of my sight, you Satan, You are judg­ing not by God’s stan­dards but by hu­mans!” Peter was turn­ing Je­sus away from his God-given mis­sion to suf­fer for hu­mankind, tempt­ing him to turn away from the di­vine plan of sal­va­tion.

You don’t need to be a fa­ther or mother to re­al­ize that suf­fer­ing, and pain, and death are part of the hu­man con­di­tion. There is no es­cape.

But it can eas­ily take a life­time to see suf­fer­ing with the eyes of Christ. In it­self, suf­fer­ing is nei­ther good nor bad. The all-im­por­tant ques­tion is, why? Why do good peo­ple suf­fer?

I guess there is no real sat­is­fac­tory an­swer. God does not give any sat­is­fac­tory an­swer. But this much we know: A God who loved me enough to take up a hu­man body to share my life, to die shame­fully and will­ingly for me on a cross be­tween two thieves – this God does not take plea­sure in earth­quakes, and war, in floods and vol­canic erup­tions, in can­cer and mas­sacres.

We can­not un­ravel the mys­tery: why our near and dear ones, why good peo­ple die? Why all the suf­fer­ing peo­ple in our hos­pi­tals? What you and I can do is to keep our suf­fer­ing from be­com­ing sheer waste.

How? By trans­form­ing suf­fer­ing into sac­ri­fice. There is a dif­fer­ence. Sac­ri­fice is suf­fer­ing with a pur­pose. Our world has long since learned a painful les­son: Per­fect one­ness with some­one or some­thing beloved – man, woman, or child, mu­sic or medicine, knowl­edge or art – can be achieved only in terms of self-giv­ing, only in terms of love.

In the Chris­tian mys­tery, the self-giv­ing love was summed up by Je­sus in to­day’s Gospel: “If you want to come af­ter me, deny your­self, take up your cross, and fol­low in my steps.”

A big if: if you want to come af­ter him, if you want to be his dis­ci­ple, if you love him enough to suf­fer for him as will­ingly as he was cru­ci­fied for you.

Let’s close with St. Paul’s words to the Ro­mans. They speak of suf­fer­ing and sor­row in a faith­ful way. Paul writes: “We know that all things work for good for those who love God.”

And again, he writes, “Re­joice in hope, en­dure in af­flic­tion, per­se­vere in prayer… Do not be con­quered by evil but con­quer evil with good.”

Fi­nally, he writes, “The suf­fer­ings of this present age are as noth­ing com­pared with the glory to be re­vealed for us.”

To­day’s The Day

One Year Mini Daily In­spi­ra­tion

• In 1891, Hitler’s suc­ces­sor, Karl Doenitz, was born. A Nazi from the party’s early days, he be­came the Re­ich’s grand ad­mi­ral. He was al­most solely re­spon­si­ble for re­build­ing the Ger­man U-boat fleet, and by the end of the war was prob­a­bly the only se­nior

─ from─ from KARL DOENITZ ( DR. JOHN COLET (hel­leni­ca­ Jeremy Bea­dle (Signet)(OMF Lit­er­a­tures Inc.)

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